Pro bono work represented only a fraction of Alex Patafio's selfless service. She was a third-year law student at Georgia State University College of Law earning a certificate in Public Interest Law & Policy prior to her untimely passing on October 7, 2022.
“Alex was also instrumental in helping secure scholarships for seven law students to attend The Summit: Georgia’s Child Welfare Conference in the Fall of 2022,” said Jonathan Todres, Distinguished University Professor, professor of law and Patafio’s public interest law certificate faculty advisor.
Patafio was a student in Todres’ Global Perspectives on Children and the Law seminar course in Spring 2022. “Alex wanted to uplift others,” Todres explained, as he talked about the importance of carrying on Patafio's legacy in his own work.
Patafio had a remarkable sense of fortitude and determination to change the world. It was the 30-year-old's compassion for dismantling injustices that enabled her to serve in countless ways. She labored tirelessly with the Health Law Partnership (HeLP) Clinic; a component of the College of Law’s Center for Law, Health & Society that helps students gain practical experience with clients.
“She fought to give a voice to the voiceless, and she poured her heart and soul into her HeLP Clinic and pro bono work,” said Clare Raley (J.D. ‘23), one of Patafio’s best friends.
Raley, described Patafio as “a natural born leader and advocate.”
“She was not inconsiderate or antagonistic; she just held people accountable,” Raley said.
Raley noted Patafio's advocacy efforts included women's rights, minorities, the LGBTQIA+ community, and underserved groups. As a result of Patafio's advocacy, the Center for Access to Justice established a Pro Bono Service Day in her honor. Her peers created the hashtag #GoodLaw, which is circulating on social media in honor of her exceptional service.
“She undoubtedly would have made a fantastic attorney,” Raley affirmed.
While she was extremely vocal, Patafio’s actions speak volumes. In evaluating cases, she was guided by her commitment to public interest law. While working as a law clerk at Arora Law, she and her colleague, Robert Wilson (J.D. ’23) helped prove a man's innocence from an armed robbery charge by discovering cell phone records that indicated the man was not present at the scene of the armed robbery. The victory was widely reported by local television news stations.
This was an example of Patafio’s tenacity.
“She was unapologetically herself in every room and a trailblazer,” said Colyer Montgomery (J.D. ‘23), who describes Patafio as the embodiment of practicing law.
She remembers Patafio serving as a student leader for the Center for Access to Justice’s Pro Bono Program through the Georgia Legal Services Program and the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation and the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, where Patafio and others assisted “more than 1,000 tenants facing eviction find resources.”
As a result of their efforts, the White House and the Department of Justice recognized their achievements along with 98 other law schools.
Patafio left such an indelible mark on the College of Law and the legal profession that a scholarship was established in her memory. It’s called the “Class of 2023 Alex Patafio Scholarship,” and it is geared toward students with a strong interest in public interest law and public defense. The scholarship will also serve as the 2023 Class Gift Campaign. The goal of the Class Gift Campaign is to reach 100 percent participation from the graduating class. A gift of any amount is included in the overall participation percentage and provides financial support to an incoming law student.
Another effort to honor Patafio is the “Alex Patafio Public Interest Leadership Award,” which was presented to two students who demonstrated leadership in public interest law on March 27, 2023. The awards were presented to Dan Wingate and Zoe Siepert, who are both third-year law students.
“I feel a deep, personal responsibility to ensure her legacy lives on, so to be a recipient of an award in her honor makes me feel like the work I have done and will continue to do has helped carry on her legacy,” Siepert shared.
The loss of Patafio leaves a hole in the hearts of so many people who loved and admired her. However, there is no doubt that she deserved her flowers. A posthumous degree will be presented to her family by the College of Law on May 12, 2023, at the Georgia State University Commencement and Hooding Ceremony.
Darcy Meals, director of public interest programs at the College of Law and deputy director for the Center for Access to Justice, recalls Patafio standing out in class during the COVID-19 pandemic when all classes were online.
“Her curiosity and intensity reached through the computer screen,” Meals remembered.
Meals was struck by Patafio's energetic spirit. Affirming Patafio's motto, "do it scared," Meals stated that she believed Patafio did not let fear hold her back from embarking on new adventures. Todres shares similar sentiments.
“Alex was courageous in big and small ways. She was insightful and selfless, and she brought joy and fun to everything she was part of, without ever losing a sense of purpose.”
-Written by Maya Carpenter